A word we can’t seem to get enough of in the non-profit sector is “impact.” We want to have more impact. We want to support organizations that make an impact. But what do really mean when we talk about impact?
For most organizations, impact means success in solving a specific problem or achieving their mission. For others impact is about the measurement of results and improving an issue or affecting society. But that’s only part of the picture. True impact comes from thinking big about your mission, wrestling with the small details, and balancing it all with the capacity of your organization.
- First, think BIG. At Starfish Impact we think the first step to thinking big is to ask “why?” and to ask it a lot. We know an afterschool program that uses “success starts here” as their motto. They got to that by asking why. Like this:
- We provide afterschool services.
- So children can have a place to go after school.
- So they can learn more and stay out of trouble
- So they can graduate from high school and college.
- So they can have successful lives.
- Then, think small. It’s the details that make a difference between a program that vaguely defines success and one that ensures every action drives them closer to making an impact. Here, it’s important to define every word you use in describing your organization in a measurable way. For example we’ve seen organizations wrestle with the following:
- If we say 100 students, do we mean 100 enrollments that participate for at least one year? Or do we mean on average, we will have 100 students participating in our program on a daily basis?
- When we say health, do we mean physical health? Or should we include mental health?
- When we say a person is “self-sufficient” what does that mean? How will we know if someone in our program is self-sufficient?
- Finally, defining where you can go given the capacity of your organization. It can be helpful to create an “impact statement.” Like a mission statement an impact statement can guide an organization to desired outcomes. For example:
By [TIMEFRAME], [ORGANIZATION] will [VERB] [INSERT TARGET NUMBER] [INSERT UNITS OF CHANGE] to [INSERT ANTICIPATED IMPACT / IMPACT GOAL].
So if we use our example of the afterschool program, an impact statement might look like:
By 2020, ABC, Inc., will mentor 15,000 students to be career and college focused and ready to graduate.
Then we would define all those details:
- By 2020 we mean June 2020, the end of the 2020 school year.
- Mentor means that each student is paired with a trained volunteer to work on homework, academic success, and future goals.
- The 15,000 student number is cumulative, meaning between now and 2020 we will add capacity and serve 3,000 students per year.
- Career and college focused means that students can indicate options for their future in our end of the year evaluation. Our expectation is that every student will be able to identify a career choice and the steps they need to get there, whether that involves college or not.
- Ready to graduate means that they have expressed the desire and commitment to high school to the point that we do not believe they are not a dropout risk.
Impact strategies are a lot of work, but we have found that the process of creating one with your team can be an important part of defining and guiding your programmatic decisions and getting your team on the same page.